Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christ the King Sermon--Nov. 26 "King of Truth"

Scripture Texts:
Revelation 1: 4-8
John 18:33-37

Today we celebrate the Reign of Christ the King. It is an important Sunday because it is the last Sunday of the year in the Christian calendar. Last Advent, when the Christian calendar began, the focus was on the hope and dream of a savior-king, born in a stable. So, today it makes sense that the culmination of the year should reflect the actuality of that hope and dream that began last Advent.
Christ, the one who was born in a stable, who provided a model for our lives to live in a way that brings light to the world, who through crucifixion and resurrection mysteriously conveyed God’s grace to us in a real and tangible way—this same Christ is the true king of the universe—this same dusty young carpenter and dynamic and controversial preacher is one and the same as the very center of the Universe, the Ground of all Being, the Alpha and the Omega.
What does this mean for us today? How does this change our lives as they are experienced at the end of 2006 in Morris, Oklahoma? Who or why should we care if Jesus Christ assumes the role of a king—what does it mean for Christ to reign in heaven?
Mary Anderson writes on this topic in a Christian Century article, “I wonder and worry that people perceive Christ's rule to be similar to the queen of England's rule. Do we view Christ as one surrounded with the art and beauty of a tradition that is more antique than active? Do we see this figure of salvation as hopelessly outdated and practically mute in these postmodern times?
If we stretch ourselves to think in royal terms, we remember that although "king" may be an unfamiliar symbol, it is a political term. Kings rule a particular piece of geography. They may rule over a particular ethnic group. They have subjects--they have "a people." What we declare on this last Sunday of the church year is: Christ has made of us a people.”
The early church knew much persecution and difficulties in daily life. For them, the statement that “Jesus Christ is Lord” was a political statement—it carried the possible penalty of execution. In this day and age, in this country, I can walk down the street saying “Jesus Christ is Lord,” all I want with no repercussion. I can spout out that Jesus Christ is Lord till I am blue in the face and probably not even cause a stir.
I can say it at Wal-Mart, I can say it at the gas station, I can say it on the steps of the couthouse in Okmulgee, I can mention it to the postal workers at the post office, and contrary to what some of the folks on the radio tell you, I can go to the public school and say it all that I want to. These days, I can say it as much as I want—but does it carry the same meaning and message that it did when those Christians used to utter it in the Roman Empire? How does this truth make us “a people?”
This understanding of Christ is laden with political meaning for the first practitioners of Christianity. To say “Jesus Christ is Lord” was to make a declaration of independence from the Empire that knew only one Lord, the Caesar. It was a statement of bravery and rebelliousness that one living in a democratic society such as my own cannot fully comprehend. Our system of government allows me to make the statement that “Christ is Lord” without any fear of arrest, torture, or execution. So to some extent, my affirmation that “Christ is Lord” does not have the same potency as the same words uttered by early martyrs of the Church. However, I understand the words “Christ is Lord” to still carry political and economic meaning.
When I say these words, I commit myself to Christ over and beyond my commitments to any particular form of government, dogma, or other “power or principality.” As the early Christians committed themselves to Christ as Lord and thus turned their attention to alleviating the woes of the powerless and dispossessed people of the Empire, I see the direction of Christ pointing me toward the same ends.
The Lordship of Christ reigns in a Kingdom where the world has been turned upside down, and the powers and principalities that dominate the earth with callous disregard for compassion have been shaken out. Christ directs his disciples to carry out the healing and preaching that will facilitate the unveiling of this reality “in our midst.”
I associate the term “Lord” with the spirit of God who liberated the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. I also celebrate Paul’s correlation between the Lord and freedom in 2nd Corinthians 3:17, which states, “The Lord is the Spirit; but where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Instead of affirming a Lord who rules my life in a coercive manner, I celebrate Jesus Christ as the Lord who gives freedom. When I state that Jesus Christ is Lord, I am giving my loyalty to the Risen Christ. I am committing myself to be the best disciple I can be. This is the freedom that the Lordship of Christ inspires. Christ leads by example.
I call Christ Lord because Christ goes first where he wants me to go. As I follow the Lord, Christ’s leadership becomes more and more clear to my eyes. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Our scripture today from John shows us an instance of Pilate looking in the mirror and not being able to make out much of anything at all. Here Pilate is interrogating Jesus and is trying to determine whether this figure before him is a threat to his rule or not. The talk on the streets is that he is. They are proclaiming him the King of the Jews, the Son of David—and Pilate is familiar enough with his assigned territory to know what that means.
The people evidently think this is a candidate for insurrection. They want to see Jesus do the same things that David did, namely rout their enemies out of Palestine and regain power for themselves. This was something that could not happen if the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, was to be preserved. Interestingly, in Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus, he becomes the one who becomes interrogated. Jesus masters him and turns his questions on their head. He invites Pilate to know him theologically, not simply politically. Pilate can’t get beyond the politics though, and ironically answers his own question “I am not a Jew, am I?” with a positive. You see, John used the word, “Jews,” not so much ethnically but instead to label those who did not hear and believe the truth of Jesus.
Pilate asks Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus replies, “You say that I am a king, for this I was born, and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Then Pilate asks the question, “What is truth?” What an interchange! One king asking the true king, “what is truth?” We want to know too. John uses the word truth in 21 verses in his Gospel, and evidently the concept is important to him. Jesus is the king of Truth, he is the truth, and we want Jesus to be a little more descriptive about his kingdom.
Jesus speaks about Truth as though it can possess us. He has come into the world to testify to the Truth. The truth possesses him, for sure, and another thing, if we belong to the Truth, we listen to his voice. So what does it mean for us today that Christ is King? It means that Christ invites us to be owned by the Truth. And what is that truth?
That truth is that the Kingdom is here in our midst, as Jesus says in Luke 17:20. It is a Kingdom that we open our eyes to—it is a kingdom where we open our eyes to one another and see brothers and sisters. It is a kingdom in which we look at the homeless, the orphan, the prisoner, the AIDS patient, and we see royalty. What would you do if the President or some Hollywood celebrity walked into this church right now? We’d probably all fall over ourselves with respect. I’d stutter and sputter and try to find some way to present our little fellowship here in a dignified manner. We’d be star-struck.
Christ is the King of the kingdom in which all of these people are more than celebrities or dignitaries, they are Children of God. What is truth?, Pilate asks, “The truth,” says Jesus, “shall set you free!” Living in this awareness does indeed set us free. It sets us free to be loved by God despite ourselves. The truth is grace. God’s grace is the truth that is the secret of the universe. It is like a pearl of great price, it is like a lost coin found and celebrated. Grace gives us the eyes to see our fellow brothers and sisters through the light of love. Grace gives us the eyes to see God’s presence in all of creation. Grace gives us the freedom to look at ourselves in the mirror and know that God loves us as we are.
Christ is King, indeed. Christ is the King who sets us free by giving us the truth—the truth that God loves us unconditionally. This unconditional kingdom is not just a time in the future when Christ comes in victory to usher in this understanding all over the world, it is a condition of the heart in the present. Christ can reign RIGHT NOW in our hearts if we open our hearts to the grace of God and put that grace into action in our lives and in our encounters with others. Christ says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who was and is and is to come.” Christ’s reign is not constrained by time, it is outside of time. It comes to us whenever we love one another, as Christ commanded us in the Gospel.
Can you imagine? John’s account of the interaction between Pilate and Jesus ends in a question. Jesus does not give an answer to Pilate’s question “what is truth?” But if he had, we can imagine what his answer might have been based on our reading of the rest of the Gospel. Jesus might have said, “My son, the truth is that God loves you and accepts you despite what you will do to me. This truth should be powerful enough for you to change your life—for you to walk in a way that leads to the light and glory of God.” Jesus had said earlier in John, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” was sitting right in front of him.
Jesus might have used the words from the Revelation to John, “every eye will see me, even those who pieced me, and on account of me, all of the tribes of the earth will wail.” The truth is that the love that shines from God through the life and death of who in Pilate’s eyes was an ordinary peasant insurrectionist is a love that is intended for everyone. “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”

1 comment:

  1. I realise that, to Americans, it may be a very minor point, but please note that Elizabeth is Queen of the United Kingdom, not just of England. If you wish to be totally accurate, she is Elizabeth II of England and Wales, but Elizabeth I of Scotland and N.Ireland as the latter were totally separate from England when the previous Elizabeth was Queen. Historical accuracy is surely as important as theological corrstness?!
    C.Brian Ross (Rev) - and teacher of History!